FORT DRUM, N.Y. (WWTI) — Imagine seeing a military humvee or Blackhawk helicopter at school.

This is now a reality for students in the North Country, as Fort Drum’s STARBASE Academy officially opened and hosted its inaugural class during the second week of September.

STARBASE is a Department of Defense program and has over 90 locations across the country. Fort Drum was first approved as a STARBASE installation in 2021, which made it the first in New York State and third Army base in the country.

This $1 million investment renovated the former Visual Information facility on Lewis Avenue into a schoolhouse.

“Fort Drum now has an opportunity to partner with our school districts to also stimulate learning and growth of children throughout the North Country,” Fort Drum Garrison Commander Col. Zacchino said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

As it welcomes classes of fifth-grade students for a week-long program, the Academy has no traditional classrooms.

Its curriculum involves strictly hands-on lessons, science experiments such as small rockets, the latest technology including 3-D printing, and chromatography.

“I’ve worked at different districts and yes you get to do experiments and a few STEM activities, but this is every day, lesson upon lessons of STEM-based programs,” Instructor Dana Hanni said.

This opinion was also voiced by Program Director Joanne Witt, who previously taught at Jefferson-Lewis BOCES and Watertown High School.

“[Students] get up out of their chairs, we go outside of the building, we go into the lab. Nobody is sitting in their seats, and even at seat time, they’re leaning onto the tables.”

But STARBASE doesn’t stop there. Because of its location on the Fort Drum military base, instructors incorporate military education into the curriculum.

In the first week, students interacted with active-duty soldiers were able to see military vehicles and were given their own call signs.

Director of Civil-Military Programs for Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Michael O’Toole said this will help bridge a divide in the region.

“Even though we have tens of thousands of soldiers up here, the surrounding community will never really have a chance to get onto the installation and experience what life is like on the installation,” O’Toole shared. “So a program like this is important to bridge that civil-military divide.”

So far, over ten North Country school districts have committed to participate in Fort Drum’s STARBASE Academy, with 68 classes scheduled. The academy is open to all schools in the region and can be arranged by contacting a district’s Fort Drum school liaison.